And looking at it, of course, actually interacting with it, is even worse…. Our phones are not merely appliances. They have become inherent, and dangerous I believe, aspects of our very identity. We craft and create online identities that project not who we really are but who we would like the world to think we are. Having to curate one identity is hard enough. It is what adolescents (and adults) have struggled with forever. However, having to curate two identities – a real one and a screen one — is the stuff that daily stress and depression are made of. It is now not only “Who am I?” but it is also “Who should I be online?”
We then compare and contrast our real lives with others’ screen lives. We forget that just as we carefully curate our online personas, so do they. We are struggling. However, everywhere we look online others are exuberant. A buttery croissant or cappuccino with a heart drawn in the foam becomes the criterion for a status of “very happy” with the accompanying pic of the said food item and our friend’s smiling face above. Whether she is truly happy and also enjoying a croissant or whether she is sad or tired or bored or confused or frustrated and using the buttery croissant to numb her emotions – the subtlety is glossed over and what we see is she is very happy, and with a heart in her cappuccino no less.
We then, experiencing a deep and pervasive sense of not-good-enough-ness, post a picture of ourselves, with perhaps a Monet landscape in our triple soy latte (anything to beat the heart in a cappuccino) and check in as “awesome.” Except we are not. At least not until we get enough likes and ego-boosting comments on our post. Then, a friend or colleague or acquaintance who is also struggling sees our post of unbridled exuberance over a simple caffeinated beverage and feels the same anguish – why is everyone so happy except her?
And so the dominoes continue to fall, with each of us projecting that which is not, in order to cover up our insecurity over that which is, and in our simple effort to make ourselves feel better, we all end up perpetuating the very myth that haunted us in the first place: that everyone else is happier than we are.
Then the chasm between the real world and the screen world deepens, and we begin to compare ourselves unfavorably not only to our neighbors, friends and co-workers as our parents and grandparents did but also to our own online identities. We don’t only have to keep up with the Jones or Kardashians. We have to keep up with the very roles we’ve created for ourselves online.
When we compare our real struggles, real vacillating emotional state, real dilemmas and insecurities with the two-dimensional emoji world that most of the social media have become, it is no wonder that youth who spend more time on social media are consequently more depressed and suicidal. I’m sure the same holds true for adults, but there is a lot more research on its impact on youth. The rate of depression in teenagers skyrocketed 33% between 2010 and 2015, coinciding exactly with smartphones and the rise in social media platforms. In the same period, teen suicide rates increased a terrifying 31%.
Clicking Still-Lifes Of Self But No Life in My Self
And now a new craze has begun – selfies. It is of course not actually brand new, but in cultural evolution a few years still counts as new. For the history of photography and even other forms of fine art – painting, drawing, sculpture — self-portraits were a rare production and were certainly not been an obsessive streak through our artistic heritage. In my high school art classes, I cannot recall anyone drawing pictures of themselves, and it was a rare student in my photography classes who arrived with a photo of himself. Hitchcock’s habitual cameos became so famous because a cameo was so rare.
Somehow, however, the intersection of digital cameras, social media and instant feedback have created a ripe and ready soil for GenX, GenY and GenZ to fuse into GenMe. It’s no longer enough to photograph a sunset and to have my presence implicitly understood by the fact that I was taking the picture. Now it is the selfie of me with sunset. It is me with Notre Dame, me with the Taj Mahal, me out grocery shopping, me in an aeroplane seat. The favourite artistic genre of the day has become “Still-life with self.” But it is not even with self so much as it’s of self! We have begun to depend upon the “still-life of self” to bring life to our selves!
Phones in India are now advertised not by how good the reception or sound is, not by how few calls are dropped, but by the clarity of selfies they take. All the billboard advertisements for phones are images of Bollywood stars taking their own selfies with whatever mobile phone is being advertised. Sharper selfies, clearer selfies, easier selfies. This is now the standard upon which phones are marketed.
In our sacred Ganga Aarti each evening on the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh — an ancient ritual of waving brightly lit oil lamps to the sound of mantras and prayers — one looks out toward Ganga, the river worshipped as the Mother Goddess. Where I used to see an ocean of devotees with hands in prayer, today I see an ocean of outstretched arms with phones pointed toward themselves. More important than merging and melting into the experience, one that is said to have the alchemical power to grant moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death, more important than connecting deeply with the Divine, has become getting a good shot of ourselves having the experience. Tragically, however, that very instinct is what is sure to keep me always an arm’s length, or a selfie-stick length – away from the actual experience.
(The writer is the president of Divine Shakti Foundation, Rishikesh. She left America in 1996 and settled in Rishikesh. Views expressed here are personal) read more posts…
Friday, 06 Apr 2018 | Bhagavati Saraswati | in Devbhoomi Spiritual–
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